The domestic box office summer sizzled as it crossed the finish line Labor Day with record revenues of $ 2.12 billion. Fueled by commercial behemoths “Jurassic Park,””The Firm” and “The Fugitive,” revenues soared past the 1989 benchmark of $ 1.77 billion by 20%.The season also bettered 1989′s record admission levels by some 16 million patrons. Daily Variety calculates summer 1993 ticket sales at 461,826,100, or 4% better than the previous record. Four years ago, moviegoers accounted for 445, 894,200 torn stubs. “What we’ve seen this summer are the benefits of a recession mentality and a series of films that were emotionally satisfying to all kinds of audiences,” said Universal senior veep marketing/distribution Nikki Rocco. “It wasn’t one or two films that made the difference; clearly there were a half-dozen films or more at any time that people wanted to see. They were films that allowed people to escape into more pleasant worlds and served as an emotional escape valve.” Unquestionably a handful of prominent titles held sway for most of the season. There were potent returns from “In the Line of Fire” and “Cliffhanger.” TriStar effectively counterprogrammed with “Sleepless in Seattle,” and both “Free Willy” and “Rookie of the Year” provided sleeper successes aimed at family audiences. But the greatest marketplace expansion occurred among niche appeal and specialized product. “Menace II Society,””Posse” and “The Wedding Banquet” capitalized on ethnic viewers to great effect. More high-brow crowds were held rapt by “Much Ado About Nothing,””Like Water for Chocolate” and “Orlando.” Universal’s “Jurassic Park” finished the summer with $ 316.6 to become the clear individual winner of the season. It should wind up with better than $ 330 million domestically to rank as the second-biggest grosser of all time in North America. However, a single film cannot take the entire weight of any summer. In addition to “Jurassic,” Paramount’s “The Firm,” Warner Bros.’ “The Fugitive” and TriStar’s “Sleepless in Seattle” all earned more than $ 100 million. A fifth film — Columbia//Castle Rock’s “In the Line of Fire”– will pass the century mark next week, marking the first season with more than four $ 100 million-plus grossers. WB wins at the wire In market share, there were a fierce fights down to the wire for the top spot and two other hotly contested positions. From the opening weekend of “Jurassic Park,” Universal was the dominant studio in the marketplace. However, with the early August debut of “The Fugitive” and subsequent releases of “The Secret Garden” and “The Man Without a Face,” Warner Bros. closed the gap daily. The Burbank studio literally moved ahead of the dino-might competition the day before the season closed. It finished with $ 401.3 million to Universal’s $ 393.4 million. Warner Bros.’ films represented 18.9% of the pie to Universal’s 18.5%. While both studios demonstrated exceptional summer earnings, their respective grosses were derived from seven (WB) and four (U) releases. Warner Bros.’ lineup appeared to be flop-proof. Based on initial foreign engagements, “The Fugitive” seems primed to become a hit comparable to “The Bodyguard.” Both “Made in America” and “Dennis the Menace” are having international success comparable to their domestic performance while “Free Willy” already appears profitable from domestic theatrical alone. Even such slow starters as “The Secret Garden” and “Man Without a Face” indicate enough ancillary heat to assure success. Universal also had an enviable record. “Jurassic,” with worldwide theatrical revenues of more than $ 550 million, is a phenomenal moneymaking machine. At home and abroad, “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” and “Hard Target” tapped into genre audiences guaranteed to ring up profits. Only its “Heart and Souls” appears to be a modest loser. Third-place Buena Vista found that volume was enough to carry it through the season. It ventured out with 11 releases (including an effective subrun surge with “Aladdin”) to generate revenue of $ 251.1 million and an 11.8% share. Buena Vista’s clear-cut big hit came from the rerelease of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with close to $ 40 million banked this go-round. The company should also come out OK on “Son-in-Law” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Then its seasonal slate turns into diminishing returns. “Hocus Pocus” might well squeak by, but the prospects for such films as “Father Hood,””Life With Mikey, “”My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Another Stakeout” are grim. A whisker behind with 11.7% from revenues of $ 249.9 million from six releases was Paramount. The studio’s biggest gun was “The Firm.” The studio also scored thanks to potent overseas grosses with “Sliver.” However, there were just as many misfires, as evidenced by “Coneheads” and by its failure to counterprogram the critically lauded “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” TriStar ranked fifth for the summer, earning $ 226.7 million for a 10.8% share. Two films –”Sleepless in Seattle” and “Cliffhanger”– made it a truly profitable season for the studio. Conversely, its acquisition of “Weekend at Bernie’s II” and the in-house “So I Married an Axe Murderer” failed to click. The worst, however, was “Wilder Napalm,” a pyro comedy that made a complete commercial ash of itself. Fox and Columbia battled to a near draw for sixth and seventh position. Fox was inches ahead with $ 200.4 million and 9.4% of the marketplace. Columbia finished with $ 199.4 million and 9.3%. Fox in the black Virtually all Fox releases showed signs of squeaking into the black; even better, “Rookie of the Year” was an undeniable success. “Rising Sun,””Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Hot Shots! Part Deux” displayed domestic strength, with the latter title quite potent already in foreign climes. Even the company’s acquisitions of “Only the Strong” and the animated “Once Upon a Forest” could provide modest returns once ancillaries kick in. Columbia, on the other hand, is still licking its wounds from the major summer misstep known as “Last Action Hero.” It also took a considerable hit from the non-performance of “Lost in Yonkers.” Columbia’s best outing was clearly “In the Line of Fire.” It also turned a modest profit with “Poetic Justice,” but problem films include the adaptation of Stephen King’s “Needful Things” and the Labor Day release of “Calendar Girl.” New Line and its specialized Fine Line division generated $ 55.6 million to corral 2.6% of the big picture. It was the company’s best summer performance, fueled by the considerable success of “Menace II Society” and a profitable turn from “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.” New Line decided to pull back “Mr. Nanny” with Hulk Hogan and restricted its family fare to what proved to be lackluster results from “Surf Ninjas.” Other specialized distributors managed to carve out about a single percentage. Miramax figured in for 1.3% on revenues of $ 27.4 million while Goldwyn secured a 1.1% share on a $ 22.5 million box office. Tyro Gramercy bowed with .9% from a summer gross of $ 19.8 million. Though embracing the promise of a brighter tomorrow, MGM’s today as exemplified by its summer box office was nettlesome. Neither of its seasonal offerings –”The Meteor Man” and “Son of the Pink Panther”– demonstrated any commercial potency. The studio ended the summer with $ 17.2 million at the box office and a 0.8% share.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more